Happy holidays are here again. Hopefully, you are feeling that special Holiday cheer as you prepare to gather safely with family and friends. In just a few short weeks, after we have taken down the lights and decorations, safely storing them in the signature tangled constellations we adore, our collective intentions will turn towards goals to improve various areas in our lives. One very common shared goal is that of improved fitness and nutrition. We will begin again, the bargain with our consciences about how we will be disciplined and dedicated...after our delightful culinary indulgences that this time of year brings. We will set trackers and checklists, and make nifty calendars with projected milestone achievements. The vision boards we'll design will rival the top marketing firms of the industry. Faaaannncy.
Far be it from me to discourage positive change. I am a healthcare provider by training, after all. However, the lofty long term goals have a tendency to overshadow the consistency needed in the process. And, somewhere along the way, our precision reflex sights deviate from their target, accompanied by a sense of overwhelm compounded by our past success, or lack thereof, with this endeavor. Then, begins that all too familiar bargaining I mentioned earlier. "I'll start on Monday." "I'll start on my birthday." "I'll start before my summer vacation." And, on and on and on. At the risk of sounding contrarian, maybe let's not this go 'round? In lieu of pledging what you will do without, you pledge to add some delights, like the indulgent emperor of olde that lives in all of us, and does a happy food dance when eating our traditional treats? Maybe, this year, we don't promise to stay away from our divine culinary pleasures? Maybe, this year, we give ourselves permission to add more? What we add is where this gets interesting.
There are a few true powerhouses in the food world that are what we call adaptogens. According to the National Institutes of Health, an adaptogen "increases the state of non-specific resistance in stress and decrease sensitivity to stressors, which results in stress protection, and prolongs the phase of resistance (stimulatory effect). Instead of exhaustion, a higher level of equilibrium (the homeostasis) is attained the heterostasis." That's a lot of science words to say these food stuffs function to optimize the cell cycle, and resultant energy production. That, subsequently, improves all of the metabolic processes that sustain human life in perfect balance. Remember Krebs? Before we rehash the trauma of high school biochemistry, we can summarize this simply: adaptogens are good for you.
Two such adaptogens I think would be great additions this time of year are culinary grade organic matcha (a Japanese Green Tea powder. Like the one Daniel San drank during a traditional Japanese Tea ceremony in The Karate Kid 2. Scene included for a bit of 80's nostalgia - https://youtu.be/9Xj5LWfzOwk - you're welcome), and high-quality organic fair trade dark chocolate.
Matcha Tea has amazing health benefits. Add a dash of turmeric for a little razzle dazzle, if you dare. This combo is packed full of antioxidants, protects the liver, boosts brain function, is anti-carcinogenic, anti-diabetic, promotes cardiovascular health, is great for skin and hair, is a potent thermogenic agent (fat-burning), and is very simple to prepare! A word of caution though - try it occasionally without milk from animal sources in it. Made popular by coffee shops, matcha drinks have become mainstream, but are typically laden with animal dairy and sugar. The dairy slightly decreases the catechin mediated health benefits. Biochemically, the casein in dairy is a binder of the potent catechins (plant based compounds that have all of those amazing antioxidants) in matcha that lend to it's superpower. That binding blocks intestinal absorption of all the good things high quality culinary grade matcha offers.
To prepare this traditional drink properly, get a bamboo matcha set, with a traditional chasen. Measure out two bamboo scoops of the bright green sifted tea powder, and add 8-12oz. of hot water. This is the true ceremonial matcha tea. Be sure the water temperature is not scalding, but properly heated to about 175°F. Any hotter, and you may have an unpleasant bitter taste experience. Now, the whisking. To release these wonderful compounds and essences in matcha, you'll want to whisk until you develop a frothy, light green foam on top. This step can also be accomplished with an electronic frother, but it's not nearly as fun! Matcha is mellow and mild - treat it well, let it be great! If you're a lover of the latte, a culinary grade matcha will suffice. To this, you can add macadamia, almond, or another nut milk to achieve the creaminess you crave! True matcha is taken without any flavor additions. But, if that is too much at the start, you can add a little sweet. To sweeten, I recommend monkfruit (erythritol) or a local honey, not white sugar. This drink is high in caffeine, and can give you a boost in mental alertness and energy...an excellent replacement for that morning and afternoon coffee that keeps many of us going! As with anything, don't overdo it. One to two cups per day is sufficient, always enjoy responsibly!
Fair Trade Organic Dark Chocolate
Our next powerhouse is dark chocolate. This food is low in sugar, low in certain fats, and high in cocoa solids. A quality dark chocolate is going to be around 70-85% cacao, and leaning towards the bitter side in terms of taste. Dark chocolate contains flavanol compounds which have a positive cardiac effect similar to nitric oxide. Vasodilation (relaxed blood vessels) lowers blood pressure, reducing the strain on your kidneys and delicate vessels that supply all of our working parts. Think about all that this impacts. Easy blood flow to the brain - improved cognition. Easy blood flow through the circulatory system - improved sexual and cardiovascular health, improved skin, hair, and nails, improved metabolic energy production and reduced cellular aging, and improved insulin sensitivity. Dark chocolate also has a potent mix of important minerals, like iron, selenium, potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, phosphorous, and zinc, and has plenty of healthy fiber. Some research suggests that dark chocolate is also mildly protective against harmful ultraviolet rays that contribute to skin damage.
Polyphenols are another powerful antioxidant compound in dark chocolate. They have a direct effect on lowering cortisol, which is the stress hormone responsible for your fight or flight response. Lower cortisol hormone contributes to improved mood. Before heavy reliance on pharmaceuticals, maybe try a square or two of high quality dark chocolate daily? Be careful not to consume in excess, as this food is also high in saturated fat, which can contribute to high cholesterol. However, the flavanols in dark chocolate are heart protective, so that reaction is nearly net zero.
The biggest caveat to getting dark chocolate consumption up is the bitter taste. Several chemical processes have been used to combat this. Alkali treatments are the worst of these. While it's used to reduce the bitterness, and improve the coloring, it also reduces the level of antioxidants...which makes consumption moot at that point. And, because cacao is so difficult to harvest, there are many companies that rely heavily on unethical practices to bring it to market. Select fair trade cacao at all times, to ensure those harvesting this superfood for us are not doing so while being subjected to extreme harsh conditions, exploitation, and violence. When selecting your dark chocolate, it should be listed as the first ingredient. Avoid products with additives, flavorings, trans fat, or any unnecessary ingredients.
Adding dark chocolate to your recipes as a drizzle, or making holiday truffles or brownies with it, are two ways to up your consumption. But, don't count this beauty out as a sweet accoutrement only. Dark chocolate is also the flavor base of many delectable savory dishes from across the globe. Add it to gravies, stews, and bean dishes. Mole is one such popular Mexican sauce with a dark chocolate base. It is typically prepared with chiles and aromatics, then added to protein dishes for deep, rich flavor. Another way to consume dark chocolate is to pair it with a charcuterie cheese board. The depth of flavor is so rich and complimentary, especially when paired with a great wine! It's all just very sophisticated, if I do say so myself!
Let me know if you add matcha tea or dark chocolate to your culinary repertoire. The amazing health benefits are sure to be positive contributions to your overall well-being.
As the title suggests, this is the inaugural wellness blog post for Yorkshire Wellness Group. As we develop engagement, we'll cover all topics wellness and elevated lifestyle related. For now, enjoy your holiday season, and the traditional dishes that evoke comforting nostalgia. We'll start by adding the good, before subtracting the less good. Take the stigma out of lifestyle changes that promote longevity and beauty - the point is progress, not perfection!
Please comment, like, and share! If you have a topic you'd like to suggest, please send us a message, and let us know!
To your health...¡Salud!
Happy Holidays, from The Yorkshire Wellness Group!
Dr. Blackwell is the Founder & CEO of Yorkshire Wellness Group, Corp., a multistate virtual telemedicine and health coaching company. She currently sees primary care patients in Idaho, New Mexico, New York, and Maryland. Her health coaching services are available throughout the United States.
Although I am a board certified Doctor of Nursing Practice - Family Nurse Practitioner by profession, I am not your healthcare provider. All content and information on this website and blog is for informational and educational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and does not establish any kind of patient-client relationship by your use of this website. A patient-client relationship is only formed after we have expressly entered into a written agreement that you have signed including the fees for service and all other terms governing a legal patient-client/provider relationship. Although I strive to provide accurate general information, the information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice, and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a professional in the area of your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any professional, legal, medical, financial, or tax-related decisions.
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